Put a bandage on it

on the rapid treatment of gonorrheaThe treatment of venereal disease was one of the main functions of the medical profession from the Middle Ages until the adoption of antibiotics in the late 1940s greatly reduced their incidence and seriousness.  It was an uphill battle: although they had some success with mercury, there was little that was truly effective against infections like syphilis and gonorrhoea.  In … Read more

Poisoning pooches in the park

[with apologies to Tom Lehrer]

observations of the actions of poisons

Articles in early scientific journals are often little more than a series of anecdotes, without experimental controls or any attempt to reach sound conclusions through quantitative means.  This flaw is particularly apparent in articles on medical subjects, where a successful ‘cure’ of a patient is often accepted at face value, without any attempt to establish … Read more

Medical qualifications: optional

zeifertHere’s a report of a criminal trial at the Old Bailey from a little over a century ago which truly made me grateful for modern medicine – and in particular for the modern regulation of the profession.  In this case a doctor without any qualifications escaped with a slap on the wrist, despite having killed a patient.

On March 3… Read more

Chess and phrenology

chess and phrenologyIn 1841 The Dublin Journal of Medical Science printed a short report of a meeting which had taken place earlier that year in London.  It begins with a sarcastic little disclaimer:

We are not quite satisfied that the subjoined paragraph, taken from a weekly London paper, contains a correct account of Dr. Elliotson’s Phrenological Lecture on the cranium of De Read more

Do no harm – unless it’s a criminal

In 1875 the British Medical Journal had some fun digging around in the archives:

column for the curious

BARBAROUS PUNISHMENT: A SURGEON’S OCCUPATION. – 1720, March 29th. On Wednesday, Thomas Hayes, formerly the commander of a merchantman, stood in the pillory at Charing Cross, for the hour of twelve to one, when a surgeon, attended by the prison officers, got upon the pillory, when Read more

A 19th-century doctor’s guide to etiquette

Medical etiquetteIn the nineteenth century the medical profession had something of an image problem.  The archetype of the pompous or unscrupulous doctor was well established, and authors like Charles Dickens had much fun sending them up with satirical depictions which were painfully close to the mark.  In The Pickwick Papers, the young doctor Bob Sawyer uses a number of underhand … Read more

Such is the fortitude of females

operation for a new noseRhinoplasty is one of the oldest surgical operations, known to have been practised by the Indian surgeon Sushruta in the 1st millennium BC, and with great sophistication in the 17th century by the Italian physician Gaspare Tagliacozzi, who created new noses from the muscles of the upper arm.

This case reported in the 1830s in The New Read more